Sunday, April 15, 2012

MAD MEN 5.5--"Signal 30"

Sprawling on the fringes of the city in geometric order, and insulated order, in between the start of the work week and the end of the weekend. It's time once again for our weekly recap of Mad Men, the most-viewed (well, that doesn't involve doing a search for boobs or some euphemism of same) and least-commented on feature here at the blog.

This week, I hope that we do a bit better than we have over the last fortnight, which has featured one too many ropey bits to fully enjoy. On the other hand, last week, Don strangled someone in the nude, which I'm sure made some fetishist or ISIS secretary very happy. As for the rest of us, we wondered if these goofy dream sequences were going to become a thing or not.


"I know cooler heads should prevail, but am I the only one who wants to see this?"

Just in case the tenor of this season wasn't grim enough with the nude strangling, broken marriages, cancer scares, and talk of the Richard Speck killings, we open with film of a road accident, as Pete is taking Driver's Ed. Pete proves what a weird simulacrum of a human being he is by laughing at the wreck and trying to make time with a piece of jail-bait on her way to college (or possibly--given that Charles Whitman has just shot up a campus in Texas--yes, we're getting a lot of these, now) that's in doubt. Pete tries to sympathise with her feelings of big changes and chaos in the air, but being that he lacks an emotion chip, these things humans call "feelings" are lost on him.

In fairness to him, apparently he's being driven mad by a dripping tap in his house.

In other news, Lane, who is very much like Pete in that genuine emotions and expressions are painful and awkward to him on a cellular level. This presents a problem because, while he gets Jaguar to sit down and talk about maybe moving over to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, given that Lane is somewhat less smooth than, say a homunculus, he stumbles awkwardly through the first dinner, leaving Roger and Pete to jockey for position in trying to close the deal.

Pete's also entertaining, which gives us a chance for the stories that run through this episode to converge slightly, as Ken Cosgrove's writing career (apparently he writes science fiction . . .and not great SF, either) Don and Megan get dragged to the party despite trying to escape by any means, and Pete gets cockblocked by Don who demonstrates his superior plumbing skills and fixes Pete's sink.

On the plus side, Megan and Don get so hot and heavy they can't even wait until they get home. Apparently plumbers get her wet. No mean feat, considering Don Ken and Pete were wearing sports jackets that Pee Wee Herman would have rejected as dorky as all hell.

The back of the episode concerns itself with Pete acting like a dickmonster to the entire world and trying to make the Jaguar rep happy while being consummate professionals. Amazing when you consider that they're all wearing lobster bibs.

Fortunately, if there's one thing clients love, it's booze and whores, and Roger Sterling knows his whorehouses. Roger gets the rep, himself and Pete laid (Pete's date looking like the chick at Driver's Ed was not lost on me, especially after Driver's Ed girl cockblocks him for Joe College--Pete getting cockblocked by things ) and Pete's overweening obnoxiousness rises to its ascendancy, as he acts like a bitchy little sleazebag to anyone and everyone.

This reaches critical mass when Lane angrily informs them that they've fucked up and lost the account, on account of the fact that the Jaguar rep's wife found chewing gum on his junk. That's Ok--they laughed too. Pete picks this opportunity to act like a son of a bitch to Lane, and while Lane has two speeds--"awkward" and "awkward"--he's taken all the shit he's gonna take from Pete and boxes him, bloodying his nose, and finally laying him out.

Then he kisses Joan, which threatens to go as awkward as when Walter White pulled that shit, but thankfully Joan takes it with aplomb. Possibly because they both are intimately familiar with being estranged from everyone else (not least of which their respective spouses) but also because they really seem like friends.

Lane Price just became one of the most popular members of the whole cast, I think.

Pete, meanwhile, having lost his cocksure attitude thanks to the punishing jabs of Lane Price, finally admits that he has nothing. The house, the family, the work, the attempts to be a big shot--none of it's working, because none of that is going to solve the problem that is Pete Campbell always feeling inadequate and measuring himself and his own happiness against whatever imaginary metric seems convenient.

So this episode was pretty damn good, I thought. The Whitman stuff was a little heavy-handed (been a lot of that about this season) but when things settled down a little and focused on the characters (Cosgrove's writing career aside, this episode benefited a lot from its laserlike focus on the Stygian depths of Pete's soul) and hey--someone took a swing at Pete, which I think is a moment five years in the making. This was the first episode this whole season I really found engaging and not full of annoying tics.

And that's the end of that chapter. Join us next week when Peggy chops someone's arm off with a meat cleaver, Pete has serious doubts about an egg salad sandwich, Don stares pensively into the middle distance, and Roger takes up interpretive dance in a little thing we like to call "Far Away Places"--it's sure to be something, I'm sure. Until next week--soupy twist!

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